Bad jokes make good stories.
I don’t mean the cringeworthy, the off-color, the we-don’t-call-them-that sort. Bad jokes of that type are just bad jokes.
Bad jokes that make good stories are better than that.
A few years and one 24-mile-bridge ride ago, an Easter homily ended almost as soon as I began it. “Mortis causa,” the official box score read, “bad joke.” There was no chance at a resurrection.
The post-Mass presser on EWTN Secundus would have been brutal. “What could ever inspire an Easter-tide Woody Allen opening?”
Thankfully, the all-Catholic-all-the-time platform stops at plain ol’ EWTN. Thankfully, too, that homily only lives on as a good story.
With two thousand people gathered on the church campus for the Christian moment, I tapped the microphone and began: “Two elderly women were at a Gulf Coast hotel and casino, and one of ‘em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ And the other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and in such small portions.’”
Homilists are trained to worry if Black congregations are quiet and if White congregations are noisy. For that all-white Northshore congregation, however, the silence somehow was louder than the pastel on their dresses. And it got even quieter on the second and third deliveries. By the fourth Mass, I just turned the microphone off and pantomimed the whole thing.
I love that joke, but I love it even more because of that Easter morning, as I earnestly ascended the pulpit again and again, just to deliver another bomb. Bad jokes make good stories.
As the intelligent reader may infer, I was a Catholic priest. For 10 years, in fact, with six years of formation preceding it. Ten years a priest and no lawsuits pending—another bad joke, or maybe just a sad summation of life in the Church these days.
No matter your feelings about God or Church or society, no matter your affiliation or resistance movement membership, my time in and out of the clerical state points to things that are common and human. For one, we love a bad joke.
For another, we love a good story. My grandfather spent 68 years chronicling them in The Times Picayune sports section. My dad, my aunt, my uncle all have pushed the pulsing cursor down the page into the next generation. And so, this one-time priest, full-time law student gets a crack at blogging. No matter how the legislature bloviates about river pilot relations, nepotism matters here, amirite?! As I often say, it’s been a steady decline down to me.
In the spirit of this intro and the swirling currents of my life, we’ll call this “From the Pulpit to the Pews.” Leaving the priesthood can seem unrelatable on its face – I have yet to have a stranger offer, “Well, when I left my decade as a bride of Christ in that cloistered monastery…” But that’s overly simplistic. No matter the starch in the collar, it turns out, priests are people, too. More vitally, this year has taught that we are all in transition, always. No matter our carefully fastened down plans or thoughts or identities. Exploration is demanded.
Come along for the ride. For the bad jokes, if nothing else.